Some of the links in this post are affiliate links. This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission at no extra cost to you. All opinions remain my own.
Ecuador is a small country located in South America. Despite its small size, it has a lot of things to offer.
Thanks to its location it displays a great variety of landscapes. You have the coast, which has amazing beaches. If you are more into mountains you have the Andes and a lot of volcanos. If the jungle is your thing you can go to the Oriente or Amazonian region. And finally you have the Galapagos, islands in the middle of the Pacific ocean with a huge diversity in wildlife.
It is a great place to experience most of what South America has to offer in just one country. Since it has so much diversity, here come the 15 things that you should not miss!
1. The Galapagos Islands
This is one of the main reasons why people visit Ecuador. These group of islands have beautiful wildlife to offer. It is a great place to enjoy the awesome beaches, go snorkelling, and diving and enjoying nature. See the giant Galapagos turtles and the unique iguanas.
2. Visit the Middle of the World
In Ecuador, you can find yourself literally in the middle of the world. In the city of Quito, you can find the Middle of the World Monument. You’d think this spot is in the middle of the world but the actual spot is 200 meters away and marked on the ground.
It’s here where they have demonstrations such as the water test, where you can see how in one hemisphere it flushes down one way but on the other hemisphere, it flushes down the other way.
3. Walk Through Quito’s City Center
Quito’s historical center is one of the oldest and best preserved in the Americas. It was the first city to be declared world heritage center in 1978 alongside Krakow, Poland. While walking through the old streets, you will be transported into the past.
It is located between mountains, so it has beautiful viewpoints from where you can take the most amazing pictures of the city and enjoy the view.
4. Take a Train Ride to Nariz del Diablo or Devil’s Nose
La Nariz del Diablo is well known because of the train that takes you there. This train ride is part of the train line that connects the Sierra with the coast. There’s a section of it that has one of the steepest inclines in the world with a 500m in only 12 km. It’s a true engineering wonder.
The journey starts in Alausí, a small town located in the mountains, and takes you to the Devil’s Nose and complete it’s route in Simbabe. Here, you’ll be able to enjoy some typical Ecuadorian food, dances and visit a local museum. When you’re done exploring, hop back on the train and return back to Alausí.
5. Party in Montañita
Montañita is a small town located along the Spondylus route. It is a town by the beach that attracts a lot of local and foreign tourist all year long. There’s always something going on there including epic parties. So if you are in for a bit of partying, make sure not to miss it!
It is also a very common destination for people that love to surf. The big waves allow you to practice that sport all the time. Montañita is full of hostels and hotels, so you have sleeping opportunities for all budgets.
It also offers a lot of eating opportunities for all tastes and at all price levels. The bohemian Montañita is definitely a place worth visiting.
6. Take a Surf Lesson
With about 640 kilometres of coastline, Ecuador has amazing beaches that allow you to practice Surf. From north to south you can find very good spots to surf.
Whether you’ve surfed before or not, Ecuador is a great place for surfers of all skill levels. The best part is that surf lessons aren’t expensive.
7. Climb the Chimborazo
The Chimborazo is an inactive volcano and the highest peek in Ecuador. It is also the closes point to the sun, edging Mount Everest by 2 km. This is because of its location along the equatorial bulge, which makes it the farthest point from the Earth’s center.
When you climb up the Chimborazo, you’ll find someone who known to be the last ice-maker. In the old days, people used to go up the Quilotoa to bring down ice for their towns. Now he is the only one still practicing taking ice from the volcano.
8. Hike the Quilotoa Loop
Quilotoa is a water-filled caldera an the most western volcano in the Ecuadorian Andes. On the top, you can find this beautiful lagoon with beautiful turquoise coloured water.
There are a ton of sport activities here including hiking, kayaking and you animal watching.
If you are into hiking, you can do a 3-5 day hike to get to Quilotoa. You start in Latacunga and pass through small Andean communities until you reach the Quilotoa lagoon.
9. Go to the El Cajas National Park
El Cajas National Park is just outside Cuenca. It is a beautiful combination of lagoons and hills with tundra vegetation. With its highest point at 4450m above sea-level, this is quite the wonder.
You can hike here or just go by car and stop in the different viewpoints along the way. You’ll also find quite the assortment of traditional dishes to try in the park.
Word of caution: Some may be affected by the altitude here so pay special attention.
10. Explore the Beautiful Cuenca
Cuenca is a beautiful city in the Andes. It is a colonial city so it has a European flair. Cuenca is synonymous for Ecuadorean beauty, history, art, churches, and small streets that will make you fall in love. The city has very friendly people and the weather is usually very favourable.
11. Do Extreme Sports in Baños de Agua Santa
Baños is the last big city located in the mountains before reaching the Amazons. It is located in the foothills of the Tungurahua volcano.
Here you can do a lot of extreme sport like white water rafting, kayaking, canoeing, bungee jumping and much more.
It has also beautiful waterfalls around the city and it is known for its thermal baths. However, the most famous part of Baños is “La Casa del Árbol” which features a giant swing at the end of the world.
12. Go shopping in the Otavalo market
Otavalo is known for it’s really nice people and the artisan market. Here you can find all kinds of crafts from the indigenous people. It it the biggest artisanal market in Ecuador and one of the biggest in South America.
The best day to visit it is on Saturday because the market expands to the streets of the city. Any other day, the market is restricted to the “Plaza de Los Ponchos”.
Very early in the morning, there is also a cattle market worth visiting. For that one you will have to wake up really early but you will see animal trading like in the olden days.
13. Visit the Isla de la Plata known as the “Small Galápagos”
La Isla de la Plata is known as the smaller of the Galapagos because here you can find very similar flora and fauna to its bigger brother. If you make it here, you’ll be able to see the blue-footed booby and big sea turtles.
It is located about a 1 hour boat ride away from the Ecuadorian coast in Puerto Lopez.
From an activity standpoint, snorkelling is also a must here with it’s incredible aquatic life.
14. Go Whale Watching
From July to October the humpback whales pass through the Ecuadorian waters. So during these months, you can enjoy a beautiful whale watching tour.
Puerto Lopez is one of the places where a majority of the whales arrive on the Ecuadorian coast which makes it an ideal starting point for a whale watching tours.
Other good places to go whale watching are: Salinas, Parque Nacional Machalilla, La Isla de la Plata, Puerto Cayo, Manta, Bahia de Caráquez, Mompiche and Súa.
15. Cuyabeno Wildlife Reserve
This is the second largest national park in Ecuador. It is abound with huge diversity of species. There are over 550 different species of birds, more than 350 species of fish, 60 different species of orchids, and 10 species of monkeys. In addition, you’ll find reptiles such as anacondas, alligators, and river turtles.
It is a great place to go and enjoy nature, and disconnect from the city and day to day life. Enjoy the beautiful sunrise and sunsets in the middle of the jungle, and get to know the indigenous communities that live there.
As you can see, this is only a high level summary of all the wonderful things you can do in Ecuador. For a small country, the diversity of places to go, things to see, and people to meet is massive. If you haven’t already, make sure you add Ecuador to your bucket list.